COVID in Today’s Classrooms

The COVID-19 pandemic affected almost all aspects of American life beginning in the year 2020. Inflation, lock-down, isolation, death, depression. All terms perhaps once more foreign became quite familiar. The country went on pause in efforts to stop the spread of a terrible illness that inevitably still worked its way into countless lives. In Oregon, schools closed or went to hybrid models for over a year, and even today, almost two years after the mask mandates and isolation requirements have been lifted, the effects of the pandemic are still present in classrooms.

In addition to vital years of academic instruction, students missed opportunities for maturation through “hidden curriculum.” Hidden curriculum is a blanket term for all students are learning outside of their academic lessons. This includes classroom manners, coping skills, social cues, etc. Essentially, life lessons prepare adolescents for adulthood and a career.

Sunridge Middle School sixth-grade English teacher Athena Nelson gave insight into how the pandemic has affected her instruction and the differences observed between her students pre- and post- pandemic. “Each year as teachers we look at which grade our students were in when we went into lockdown. This year is considered a loss of instruction and is identified as a learning gap for the students. Basically, we look at the year with the lens of those students missing the academic knowledge they should have obtained during that time, knowing we will be working extra hard to fill those learning gaps”. In addition to the students being forced to adjust and adapt to their changing reality, Nelson stated that even after twenty years of teaching, going online felt “…more difficult than the first year.”

Besides academia, Nelson noted that perhaps the largest difference in students was observed in behavior. “It was like students forgot how to be in a classroom. We saw a large increase of interruptions, increased cell phone usage, as well as a lack of raising hands. Typical classroom etiquette taught in elementary schools did not follow to the middle school level. This was not a surprise of course as the students had been out of practice for almost a year before coming back into the classroom.” Educators wondered if this was simply the new reality, or if time in school would ease these changes.

Sunridge Middle School is made up of grades 6-8; this school year of 2023-2024 will be the first year since the COVID shutdown of 2020 that all students in the school will have spent their entire middle school career in the classroom, and no part in any sort of hybrid model. Nelson reported this year had clear behavioral shifts from years past. “The cell phone battle has thankfully subsided, as well hallway interruptions.” Essentially, from the middle school level, the effects of COVID are slowly phasing out and typical middle school behavior is phasing back in.

Doctor Tracey Hanshew, a professor of history at Eastern Oregon University, has been teaching at the college level for over a decade and notes how the intro-level classes have evolved since the lockdown. Hanshew noted similar differences in her students as observed by Nelson in the sixth grade classroom. Even now, “students are continuing to evolve as anxiety levels from the lockdown continue to change.” Hanshew noticed the largest difference she had noted in her students was observed in their engagement levels. Students post-pandemic demonstrate more anxiety and fear in regard to speaking up in class than students pre-pandemic.

Hanshew stated, similarly to Nelson, that her expectations had drastically changed from what they once were, “I now accept late work, something I had not done in the past”. Additionally, Hanshew helps her students make a plan for success part way through the term to prevent them from falling behind. “I am meeting students where they are at, knowing that it looks different than it did in 2019”. One of the biggest changes though, is that “…email has become very casual. Students are not treating it as a formal form of communication with their professor and it has really shown.”

The college freshmen in the year 2023-2024 were only in high school fully for their senior year. Similarly to the middle school students, the college freshmen are not meeting the same expectations as students pre pandemic. We are still seeing the staggering effects of COVID-19 in young adults and students almost three years later. However, as the younger students are moving back to the “standards” or expectations in place before the pandemic, it can be assumed that the college professors will see a similar movement in the future.

Spread the love